April 28, 2008

Mesmerizing Night

I've been blogging a lot lately about Kris Delmhorst, but she deserves it. A couple of nights ago, I caught her and Winterpills at Johnny D's in Somerville, and once again she stunned me with her beautiful voice and songs. She was debuting many of the new songs of her album "Shotgun Singer," a mesmerizing group of tunes. The band Winterpills (below), out of Northampton, opened the show. They have a great sound, though it is very low-key. They came to life when they rocked out though it wasn't often enough to my liking.
They joined Kris as her backing band (top) for her set. If you read the interview I posted earlier with Kris you know that she wrote and created many of the songs herself in solitude. So the addition of a band really brought these songs to life. And speaking of life, Kris, as you may see in these pictures, was quite pregnant. I was impressed that she stood and played the guitar the entire time she was onstage, probably an hour and a half or more!
Anyway, it was a wonderful show. My wife and parents were with me and we got to move down front for Kris' set when they brought the tables back. Kris said she wanted a more intimate show and figured there wouldn't be much dancing during her set.
I shot two crummy videos (new camera woes). You can find them HERE and HERE. I also had to use a nightshot setting so I could see out of the viewfinder (not good) so that's why some of the photos have a weird black and white thing going on.
For more pics, click HERE.

April 24, 2008

My Orchestra Is Gigantic

I can now talk about what I've been dying to tell everyone. It is now official that Josh Ritter will be playing the Boston Pops on June 27th at Symphony Hall. There, I said it. It's out. Phew! What an awesome event this is going to be. Josh and the whole band will be backed by one of the coolest orchestras ever. I can't wait to hear songs from the new album backed by that horn section.
"My orchestra is gigantic
This thing could sink the Titanic
And the string section's screaming
Like horses in a barn burning up"

This should be totally cool. For tickets, click HERE.
I can't think of a better way to get summer started. Now if only I could pin down if the band is playing the Newport Folk Festival...

April 20, 2008

An interview with Kris Delmhorst

Reprinted from Issue No. 20 of my magazine Modern Acoustic. Download the full magazine for free HERE.

In the days leading up to when her new album, “Shotgun Singer,” hits the stores, Kris Delmhorst is in the middle of a tour of France, the Netherlands, and the US Midwest. If that’s not enough, she is also more than 7 months pregnant and “pretty much in survival mode,” as she puts it. Yet, she was still more than willing to answer a few of Modern Acoustic’s essay questions:

Modern Acoustic: What does the term “Shotgun Singer” mean to you? You use the lyric in “Midnight Ringer,” but I couldn’t find a definition or reference to it.

Kris Delmhorst: Well, literally in the context of that song it’s referring to the shotgun seat of the car … someone sitting there singing. But it’s just kind of an open phrase that sounds nice to me and suggests different things in different contexts.

MA: Your last album, “Strange Conversation,” and even “Songs for a Hurricane,” had pretty strong themes to them. Does “Shotgun Singer” have an overall theme?

KD: Nothing I set out for consciously. I never really know what a record is about until after it’s done and I have a little perspective. But I do notice that there are a lot of songs that touch on some kind of universality of human experience. That, and there also seems to be quite a bit about love as an agent of change, either in an individual person’s life or in the larger world.

MA: The new album has a wintry, intimate feel but an exuberance as well. How does it feel to you?

KD: I guess a record will always feel different to the person (or people) who made it, because listening to it brings back the whole experience of working on it. But to me it does have a certain mood. Reflective, a little solitary maybe, but not sad. With “Strange Conversation” I was really hoping to make an album that would be nice company to have on in the house, maybe even with people around, making dinner or whatever. But I think this one is more of something you’d want to listen to alone in the car or on a walk.

MA: The music on “Shotgun Singer,” the actual sound, has lots of electronic backing beats, vocals effects and other cool sounds are integrated into it. Was this planned or more spontaneous?

KD: Well, as for the drum machine sounds, that was born of necessity because of the way I made the record. For some of the songs I knew it would be easier to add parts on later if the rhythm was steady, but I hate playing to a click track, so I would dial up a cool beat on this ancient analog drum machine I have and play to that. It actually doesn’t keep time, so I’d have to grab one bar from it and then loop it, but it has this crazy little sound that I’m really fond of. It helped set a mood right away for the recordings. I didn’t necessarily think it would show up on any of the final tracks but it turned out that when we tried to remove it from some songs we really missed its personality, so it stayed. The actual drummer (Makaya McCraven) did an amazing job of playing with and off of the machine, so on some songs they’re really a little team.
All the samples and things were something I really wanted to play with on this album, just because I love the way non-instrumental sounds change the space of a song. I always like to hear things on records that I can’t identify. And I happen to have this friend (Barry Rothman) who is a mad genius with old turntables and shortwave radios! As for the vocal sounds, I wanted to treat the voice like one of the instruments in a way. It’s a little strange to get really exploratory with all the instrumental sounds on a record and then leave the vocal just sounding the same naturalistic way the whole time. Plus, I just love the sound of vocals through an amp.

MA: You’ve said that, with this album, you wanted to “break some habits, both musically and lyrically.” What were you were trying to break away from, and did you succeed?

KD: Well, it’s hard to really describe exactly what habits I was trying to break, but I can say that the more time pressure there is, the harder it is to take risks, and the greater the temptation to just revert to what you know how to do. The stuff I wanted to explore had to do with song structure and the relationship between the vocals, the primary instrument (guitar or whatever), and the other layers in a song. It’s a lifelong process of course but I do feel like I succeeded in doing some things that I never would have been able to do if I had made the record in a normal timeframe, and that’s very satisfying to me.

MA: You played many of the instruments on the album yourself. How did this influence the album? What made you choose this over playing with a group of musicians?

KD: This relates to the previous question – I love playing live with a group of musicians in the studio, but I wanted to try something really different to see what would happen. In a way, my real dream would be to make a slow record with a band someday, to have tons of time to percolate ideas and try completely different approaches to songs. But my situation at the moment doesn’t really allow for it – for one thing, not having a consistent band that I play with all the time kind of makes it impossible. For instance, a band like Wilco can spend months and years in their studio really tinkering and developing things, but when you’re just hiring people to play on a record there’s not that kind of time – unless you have unlimited money, which I don’t, to say the least! So the only way to go as slowly as I wanted to, and to have the space to take enough risks, was to work by myself. That said, I also often love the vibe of records made in solitude, and there’s something to be said for giving yourself such heavy limitations in terms of instrumentation and technical skills, and just using your imagination to make something out of it.

MA: Tell me about the process involved in writing these songs: I saw you perform at the Somerville Theatre last year and you said you had just returned from being holed up writing new songs. Is that a typical writing process for you? I know some artists write on busses, in cafes, in their sleep, etc.

KD: I start songs anywhere and everywhere, but rarely get more than a few lines in. To finish stuff I definitely need to have some time and space to myself, either at home or somewhere else. It’s often a long process, some of them sit around half done for years before they finally come together.

MA: As for the recording, what brought you to record with Sam Kassirer (who produced the album)? Did you have completed songs or was it more of an organic collaborative/ spontaneous thing?

KD: I got to a point where I had worked by myself long enough and really felt like I needed a partner for the last stages of the record. I chose to work with Sam more or less completely on a hunch. We went up to his studio in Maine with the whole record already written and recorded, although we added a good bunch of stuff while we were there – often it was amplifying and accompanying parts that already existed on the tracks, but we created some new parts that were exciting too. And we spent a lot of time on arranging – since I had accumulated a lot of tracks and sounds on the songs, a big part of the process with Sam was subtracting and sculpting. We had a great time and it was a huge relief to have someone to collaborate with at that point in the process.

MA: I have a great fondness for Signature Sounds artists, and you obviously have a lot of friends (and your husband!) on that label. Were you friends before joining the label or did the label “bring” you together?

KD: The label is a nice loose family of good people. It’s more or less a coincidence that a number of close friends (and relations) are on Signature as well, but it’s a happy coincidence.

April 18, 2008

Issue 20, April 2008

On Target: On her new album "Shotgun Singer," Kris Delmhorst looks inward
We’ve been spending a lot of our ample free time between issues reading and thinking about folk music – its origins and its future.
Why? Well, for starters, we’ve been staying up late with our nose firmly planted in the book “Turn! Turn! Turn!: The ’60s Folk-Rock Revolution” by Richie Unterberger, which vividly captures the spirit and excitement of how folkies turned to rock because of the Beatles and Dylan. It’s a fun read filled with interviews that takes music through ’50s folk heyday, the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
We’ve also been contemplating folk’s future. Last year, Boston college station WERS eliminated its traditional folk and jazz shows and combined them into a more contemporary and more varied sound. And this year, another local station, WUMB, announced that its all-folk programming is getting a sprucing up, adding more “electric” music to its mix.
We are all for these changes, having thought in the past that sometimes those shows dragged a bit and could use some modernization.
Does it mean that traditional folk and jazz are dead? It’s hard to say. We think real music fans don’t mind a good mix of music and are willing to listen to anything of quality.
Folk has, in fact, given way to a much broader range of music that still provides the personal experiences of the songwriter. It could be a single musician playing a guitar, or a singer-songwriter accompanied by a backing band, or a full-on band with a diverse set of instruments or voices.
In that vein, we talk to Kris Delmhorst, one of our favorites. Her new album, “Shotgun Singer,” encompasses all of the above. Her voice is amazing, she plays a multitude of instruments, and she’s got great musical friends, who are always there for each other.
We also review Kathleen Edwards’ “Asking for Flowers” and the Waifs’ “Sundirtwater,” two albums that offer unique views of the world.
The old adage is that all music – blues, rock, jazz, etc. – is folk music. Maybe the times aren’t changing that much.
To download the interview with Kris in the new issue, click HERE.
To read the CD reviews of Kris Delmhorst, Kathleen Edwards and the Waifs, click HERE.

MA5 - Albums
Albums that helped us survive this issue.
1. “Shotgun Singer,’’ Kris Delmhorst. We just love her voice.
2. “Mutations,” Beck. So slinky, so good.
3. “Letters From Sinners and Strangers,” Eilen Jewell. A great bar band with a classic old-time sound.
4. “Children Running Through,” Patty Griffin. We really liked the album when it came out, we really love it now.
5. “Sing You Sinners,” Erin McKeown. Every song is like a blast of spring.

April 14, 2008

On the Oregon Trail

My search for great music goes far and wide, and recently we found our way to a website out of Oregon called opb.org. I'm not sure what it stands for but it's an independent music channel, which is set up to serve Oregonians looking for cool music. But of course being on the Internet, anyone who wants to hear their songs can sign up for free. What's really cool about obp is that they feature in-studio interviews and performances and post them for listening. Among those performances are our faves Kathleen Edwards (below), doing a great all-acoustic mini-set; Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter; Eilen Jewell (inset); and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Check out all the in-studio guests here. Enjoy!

April 10, 2008

Visiting Sun Studio, from home

Some day soon I have to visit Nashville and Memphis... but until then Sun Studios in Memphis -- the home of Elvis and Stax and a boatload of music history -- has begun posting a blog livefromsunstudio which invites musicians to come play in their historic studio. They then post video clips in pieces on the site. So far, one clip each from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Amber Rubarth are available, with promises of more from both of them and many others. We hear Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles have already recorded there, so we eagerly await those. The nice thing about these clips is that the musicians really seem in awe of playing in such a historic setting but it's casual enough that it feels more like you're in the studio with these guys rather than at a show. Also, the site posts fun historic anecdotes about the studio. Today they feature a happy birthday tribute to Roscoe Gordon and his song "Cheese and Crackers." I don't know of the man or the song, but the story is great. Hear the song here. The Sun Studio blog is definitely worth bookmarking and visiting often.
To see U2 recording "Angel of Harlem" at Sun Studio, click here.
Grace Potter at Sun Studio below.

April 5, 2008

Sarah, smiles

I don't have a lot more to add to what I've said about Sarah Borges in the past. But I just love going to see her perform live. Last night, she and her band the Broken Singles played Johnny D's in Somerville, one of the best places in the Boston area to see live shows. The band was in rare form, after just returning from South By Southwest. They certainly seem to be tighter than ever, and they plowed through nearly two hours of great bar-room swinging country/rock, even getting a few members of the crowd to dance. The only drawback to Johnny D's is the lack of light, which does not help my photography skills or equipment. My video pretty much failed me and I came away with only a couple of good photos. The pic above is very telling because Sarah's guitarist Mike Castellana is a monster as well as a great guy. He plays both electric and pedal steel guitars, and as I've stated in my magazine he is both tasteful and ferocious -- sometimes at the same time. He is in another band called the Blue Ribbons, who I have not caught yet, but plan to see soon. As for Sarah and the rest of the band, they are just a blast. If you have never seen them, check their tour itinerary here and make a point to see them. Her MySpace site is here. Past Sarah videos can be found below right.